In the final installment of the off-season dive into the Sabres depth chart we’re taking a look at 2019 Sabres 1st-round pick Dylan Cozens who projects to be a top-6 contributor on the team during the 2021-2022 season. Cozens is a bit of an unknown at this point because it’s still not entirely clear if he’ll be a full-time center in the NHL or whether he’ll be a right wing moving forward, and it’s also not clear whether he has top-line potential or if he’s more of middle-six contributor.
The Whitehorse, Yukon native is widely believed to be a steady two-contributor due to his intense work ethic, but that narrative isn’t backed up by the underlying statistics at this point. For those who enjoy that kind of thing, here’s his player card from evolving hockey:
For those who don’t go in on analytics, his -15 rating over the course of the season paints a similar picture at that level. Likewise, his offensive production during his rookie year was somewhat underwhelming with 13 points in 41 games and unlike many other Sabres, Cozens didn’t enjoy the same “Granato Bump” that many of his fellow teammates saw following the dismissal of Ralph Krueger. Cozens had 5 points in 20 games under Krueger and then had 8 in 21 under Granato, which, while better, is still nothing to write home about.
This is by no means to say that Cozens had a disappointing season last year. The 6’3” forward was one of the few bright spots during a terrible season due to his willingness to battle and fight when needed. Cozens is more than ready to engage in fisticuffs and to throw his body around in order to work himself into the game and get his opposition off theirs, as demonstrated by his two fights this season. The entire team seemed completely flat and uninspired for long stretches but Cozens provided a spark to try to get some sort of emotion out of his teammates.
The NHL is also an enormously hard league to produce in, and as Cozens was 19 years old when he entered the season, it’s entirely normal for him to have suffered some growing pains. No one who watched the Sabres this past season would question whether he has the heart and willingness to be a leader on the team and it seems like Cozens will be wearing a letter for the squad sooner-rather-than-later, but there are still a lot of questions as to the offensive production he can bring to the ice.
Cozens figures to have plenty of minutes under Don Granato which means that his offensive production should see a pretty significant uptick as he becomes more accustomed to the NHL game and more comfortable with his role in it. The lanky forward relies on his skating, and specifically his straight-line speed, to generate offense and create chances, but we don’t yet know where that offensive ceiling lies. It’s possible he becomes a 60+ point forward in the future but it’s impossible to say at this point. Cozens started last season on the wing after the Sabres additions of Eric Staal and Cody Eakin didn’t leave any room for him to play center on the team. Although it’s not set in stone that Cozens will be a center going forward from here on out, it makes sense for the Sabres to at least start him at center and see where it goes. The Sabres wasted a huge amount of time with Sam Reinhart by refusing to put him back at center until he was ready to leave the team.
The Sabres really need Cozens at center to work because it would be far easier to develop the wingers they have to put alongside Cozens rather than search around the league for centers to play with Cozens. If Cozens is more suited to the wing though, the Sabres will need to bolster their center depth in a Jack Eichel trade because there is no one of note coming up through the Sabres ranks with the draft pedigree to be considered a legitimate top-6 center candidate. It’s unfortunate that the Sabres don’t have any real center depth that they could use to shelter Cozens again this year if he’s still a year or two away from being ready to fully contribute. Cozens will basically have to be a top-6 center theis season because there’s no one else to do it. This season will be all about Dylan Cozens learning who he is at the NHL level while trying to increase his offensive production compared to his season last year. He clearly has the effort and leadership to be a top-6 center in this league which he’ll need to combine with better offensive production if he’s going to reach his potential as a top-6 center.
Here's the complete mock roster:
– Casey Mittelstadt
– Victor Olofsson
– Dylan Cozens – Tage Thompson
- Rasmus Asplund
- Vinnie Hinostroza
- John Hayden
- Kyle Okposo
– Henri Jokiharju
– Mark Pysyk
- Colin Miller